Cow-Horse Training Strategies: Part 2
Cow horses can finesse a reining pattern using the same skills applied in the herd and down the fence.
January 21, 2013
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
Reiners work on reining perfection 24/7 to flawlessly float through all their maneuvers. Cow horses must demonstrate the ability to complete similar dry patterns while also completing their cutting phase and the challenging fence work.
Splitting training time among the three cow horse disciplines – while striving for perfection at each – does not appear to trigger a problem for AQHA Professional Horseman Doug Williamson of Bakersfield, California. He simply incorporates the same basic foundation for all the jobs demanded of a reined cow horse.
Doug keeps the rider-to-horse communications simple. He voices a “whoa” to stop or clucks for propulsion, uses his bridle reins mainly as directional hints, while his legs seldom do more than scold the horse for a lack of response.
“I warm up at home and before I show with my circle-stop-sweep exercise,” Doug says. “It prepares my horses for all three (cow horse) events. And it will find if a horse had any resistance so you can fix that before you go show.”
Honor Thy Reins
Doug starts his young horses with a slow version of his circle-stop-sweep exercise. He’ll begin by trotting around in a small circle, stopping, backing up and turning while keeping the drill low key, eventually building to a lope at increased speeds.
“I want my horses to be framed up the way I want them without a lot of contact on my bridle reins,” Doug explains. “I want them to be light and supple.”
Riding Patti Ures’ Cougars Smart Cat, Doug demonstrates how he uses the direct/inside rein to imply direction while implementing the outside/neck rein to attain motion. When a horse fails to react to the neck rein with the proper enthusiasm, he’ll feel encouragement from Doug’s leg.
“My direction rein doesn’t mean to turn,” he explains. “When I lay the neck rein on his neck, that means go. I want my horse supple so when I pick up on the bridle reins with the slightest contact, he honors my reins.”
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Doug seems a gentle soul
with his horses, and scolding is not a torturous punishment, just a quick reminder to pay attention to the trainer’s most subtle cues.
“If I was to stick my foot into this horse to make him turn around with my spur, he’d get mad at me and push his body into my foot,” Doug says. “If I turn my toe out and roll a spur up his body, he is going to get away from me. I’m not going to stick my spur in him and leave it. I’ll, ‘zip,’ roll the spur, and then leave him alone.”
Often, especially on more seasoned horses, just a few clucks will snap trainees to an intended response. Not overusing spurs, Doug notes, has the bonus of avoiding unhappy horses with pinned ears and flailing tails.
Circles and Changes
Horses responding to the lightest touch make easier work of reining circles, according to Doug. Reining patterns call for transitions between large fast and small slow circles. Breaking down from fast to slow can become a pulling contest between horse and rider.
“My circle-stop-sweep gets a horse thinking slow when he gets to the middle where we change speeds or leads,” Doug points out. “A lot of people want to pull a horse to a stop, then they say the horse is cheating on them when they come to the middle and he wants to scotch (or initiate a stop before being asked).
“My horses seldom scotch on me because I don’t pull on them to stop. I am going to back them up hard for not stopping. By stopping, having them think about backing up, then by sweeping or turning and continuing the other direction my horse is thinking, ‘Slow down,’ and I can let him go easy. It makes your circles really soft and good.”
Doug only wants a horse bent enough to see the inside eye in the direction he is going. This, he says, keeps the horses balanced in every maneuver and keeps them from becoming discombobulated in their circles. The correct bend comes from the counterpoise between direct and indirect reins.
“I make sure my neck rein comes just hard enough that I can barely see his inside eye,” Doug says. “That is enough direction and puts his body in the position I want him to be. The head is not tipped, and he’ll have a little bend to the poll. I don’t think having his head between his front legs is a good thing.”
Referring to a horse framed with his head too elevated, Doug adds: “Whenever the head gets above the saddle horn, the brains all run down their neck, and they can’t think.”
A horse traveling balanced and responsively in his circles should have no trouble generating smooth lead changes. Coming through the center of a circle, Doug picks up his outside bridle rein and asks his horse to change leads. He pushes the horse toward the new direction as the front feet hit the ground and the hind legs are off the ground in mid-stride.
“The butt is up taking a stride, I push him over, and he changes leads behind before he changes direction in front,” Doug says. “If a horse changes leads behind first, he has to change in front. If he changes up front first, he’ll likely be late a few strides or never change up behind.”
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Stops and Spins
Response to the bridle reins and a balanced frame are equally important when long sliding stops and fast turnarounds are demanded. And while there is a lot of talk about up and down shoulders or in and out rib cages, Doug typically keeps it simple.
“If I have my horse broke from the saddle horn to his nose, the rest of his body will follow,” Doug says.
Doug’s hands are normally close to his body and the saddle horn. The trainer says each bridle rein needs to move toward the opposite hip.
“When you are pulling on a snaffle bit, or even in a bridle, you’ll find that the best posture for a horse is to have the bridle reins guided to the opposite hip,” he says. “In other words, the right bridle rein goes to the left hip and the left bridle rein goes to the right hip. The pull needs to be cheap viagra online directed toward the rider’s body, not way out away from it.
“When you are turning your horse around, once you establish direction with the direct rein, the neck rein locks that hip right into the ground. If I don’t use some indirect rein, the hind end begins to come apart.”
When Doug pulls on the left bridle rein, it goes toward the horse’s right hip, and when he pulls the neck rein across as if he were going to turn the horse to the left, he pulls straight through his body to the left hip with the right rein. That keeps the horse in a posture to be able to turn around and pivot on the inside foot. The rider is actually driving the horse with the right bridle rein, and the horse is planting his left hind leg in the ground.
As the horse executes the turnaround, he steps the inside front leg back under the rider’s inside stirrup to enable the outside front leg to step comfortably across the inside leg, making for a faster spin.
Doug gives his horses a quiet ride during a rundown and stopping. He thinks it is important to have his body properly positioned to flow with the stop.
He also employs the same timing as in the lead change, asking for the whoa as the front feet hit the ground and the back legs are midstride, off the ground.
“I think the horse lands (into a stop) with his hind feet right at the back cinch,” he says. “When you are running to the stop, you need to be in the posture where your shoulders and upper body are behind the back cinch.”
“If you’re ahead of where the hind feet land, your bottom will bounce out of the saddle,” he adds with a grin. “That will be a rough stop.”
“Some horses need for you to take a hold of them a little bit,” Doug notes. “I just think you should never pull your horse with any more pressure than it takes you to back him up.”
By incorporating the same basics for all three cow horse events, Doug’s program keeps the learning process uncomplicated for his horses.